BETHEL – Selectmen agreed Monday night to act as lead agent in a $40,000 to $50,000 project to build a multiuse trail connecting the Bethel Pathway trail system to SAD 44’s Telstar middle and high school complex.

That means the town would front the Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Trails Committee the money, pending budget approval next year, then get reimbursed through a $30,000 state transportation grant. The rest would come from the trust in matching money or in-kind donations of time and equipment from area contractors.

Selectmen also agreed the town would maintain the trail.

Members of the Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Trails Committee, who have been working on the project since 2004, said they could apply for and get the grant through the Maine Department of Transportation.

But Bethel would have to act as the lead agent according to the grant, committee Chairman Jim List said.

“This is a potential extension of the very popular Bethel Pathway and an opportunity for painless collaboration,” List said.

The Pathway follows the Androscoggin River shoreline to Davis Park on Route 26. From there, the proposed project would pass through the trust’s Gateway parcel and woods paralleling Route 26 to Telstar.

Development of the trail would add another third of a mile to the Pathway spine, which, in the future, will be linked to a larger network of multiple trails.

“We see a whole network of trails enhancing the community development in the Bethel area in a way that is going to be preserving not only the way of life that people like to see here, but also making more excitable the prospects of inviting visitors to the area and building the economy,” List said.

Selectmen were more concerned with long-term maintenance costs, especially once they were told more trails are expected to be built in the future connecting Bethel to Newry and Sunday River Ski Resort.

“I certainly have no problem with what we’ve done in the past and, I assume, what we’re probably going to do in the future, but again, we at this table constantly have a discussion about a trail, another trail and another trail and agreeing to maintain them, although I don’t see a tremendous amount of cost here,” Selectman Don Bennett said.

“But, suddenly, if there are trails coming and you wind up with bridges, mats or whatever the necessary thing is to get across swampy areas, it still is an expense that someone has to bear. I think we’ve talked about it plenty here, and we need to make sure that the people paying the bills – the taxpayers – understand that in five years, the maintenance costs that now may be $1,200 could maybe be $3,800 or $6,200 or whatever. I certainly want to have my fellow taxpayers understand that,” he added.

Rather than just have selectmen agree to have the town maintain the trails, Bennett sought to have more future input from taxpayers.

Following more discussion, and after learning that snowmobilers could use the short trail, selectmen voted 5-0 to become the lead agent, endorse the project in principle, and accept a 15-foot wide easement from the trust containing the trail route.

By another 5-0 vote, selectmen then said the town would maintain the multiuse trail once it is accepted and go from there.

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